The Hardening of Pharoah’s Heart (Revisited)

Steve Hays responds very well to Randal Rauser’s Arminian interpretation on the issue of Pharaoh’s hardened heart demonstrating his Rauser’s) denial of the witness of Scripture. He philosophers, theologians) typically argue that human agents can do otherwise in the same situation. They consider this a necessary precondition of human culpability. Moreover, they think this exculpates God.

But in Exodus, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart to prevent Pharaoh from giving in too soon. If Pharaoh had the freedom to do otherwise, he’d be in a position to scuttle God’s design. Divine hardening ensures his resistance to the divine command.

ii) Apropos (i), the narrative distinguishes between God’s secret will and his revealed will:

2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt (Exod 7:2-3).

On the one hand, Pharaoh is commanded to liberate the Israelites. Yet God’s ulterior purpose is to make Pharaoh disobey his command. That’s instrumental to God’s goal (Exod 9:14; 14:4). God subverts compliance to further his ends.

Yet Arminians consider the distinction between God’s secret will and God’s revealed will duplicitous–especially when God commands what God prevents.

iii) In addition, Paul uses the divine hardening of Pharaoh’s heart to illustrate divine election and reprobation (Rom 9). But double predestination is anathema to Arminians.

Now let’s turn to Rauser’s argument: Continue reading

The Nature of Hardening

Sproul0003Some quotes from Dr. R. C. Sproul’s book, “Chosen by God:

“There are different views of double predestination. One of these is so frightening that many shun the term altogether, lest their view of the doctrine be confused with the scary one. This is called the equal ultimacy view.

Equal ultimacy is based on a concept of symmetry. It seeks a complete balance between election and reprobation. The key idea is this: Just as God intervenes in the lives of the elect to create faith in their hearts, so God equally intervenes in the lives of the reprobate to create or work unbelief in their hearts. The idea of God’s actively working unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate is drawn from biblical statements about God hardening people’s hearts.

Equal ultimacy is NOT the Reformed or Calvinist view of predestination. Some have called it ‘hyper-Calvinism.’ I prefer to call it ‘sub-Calvinism’ or, better yet, ‘anti-Calvinism.’ Though Calvinism certainly has a view of double predestination, the double predestination it embraces is not one of equal ultimacy” (p. 142; emphasis Sproul’s; italicized in the original).

“To understand the Reformed view of the matter we must pay close attention to the crucial distinction between positive and negative decrees of God. Positive has to do with God’s active intervention in the hearts of the elect. Negative has to do with God’s passing over the non-elect.

The Reformed view teaches that God positively or actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to insure their salvation. The rest of mankind God leaves to themselves. He does not create unbelief in their hearts. That unbelief is already there. He does not coerce them to sin. They sin by their own choices” (pp. 142-143).

“The dreadful error of hyper-Calvinism is that it involves God in coercing sin. This does radical violence to the integrity of God’s character. The primary biblical example that might tempt one toward hyper-Calvinism is the case of Pharaoh” (p. 143).

The Bible clearly teaches that God did, in fact, harden Pharaoh’s heart. Now we know that God did this for his own glory and as a sign to both Israel and Egypt. We know that God’s purpose in all of this was a redemptive purpose. But we are still left with a nagging problem. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and then judged Pharaoh for his sin. How can God hold Pharaoh or anyone else accountable for sin that flows out of a heart that God himself hardened?

Our answer to that question will depend on how we understand God’s act of hardening. How did he harden Pharaoh’s heart? The Bible does not answer that question explicitly. As we think about it, we realize that basically there are only two ways he could have hardened Pharaoh’s heart: actively or passively” (p. 144).

“Active hardening would involve God’s direct intervention within the inner chambers of Pharaoh’s heart. God would intrude into Pharaoh’s heart and create fresh evil in it. This would certainly insure that Pharaoh would bring forth the result that God was looking for. It would also insure that God is the author of sin.

Passive hardening is a totally different story. Passive hardening involves a divine judgment upon sin that is already present. All that God needs to do to harden the heart of a person whose heart is already desperately wicked is to ‘give him over to his sin.’ We find this concept of divine judgment repeatedly in Scripture” (pp. 144-145).

“How does this work? To understand it properly we must first look briefly at another concept, God’s common grace …One of the most important elements of common grace we enjoy is the restraint of evil in the world…By his grace he controls and bridles the amount of evil in this world. If evil were left totally unchecked, then life on this planet would be impossible.

All that God has to do to harden people’s hearts is to remove the restraints. He gives them a longer leash. Rather than restricting their human freedom, he increases it. He lets them have their own way. In a sense he gives them enough rope to hang themselves. It is not that God puts his hand on them to create fresh evil in their hearts; he merely removes his holy hand of restraint from them and lets them do their own will” (p. 145).

“About the only restraint there was on Pharaoh’s wickedness was the holy arm of God. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh further was to remove his arm. The evil inclinations of Pharaoh did the rest.

In the act of passive hardening, God makes a decision to remove the restraints; the wicked part of the process is done by Pharaoh himself. God does no violence to Pharaoh’s will. As we said, he merely gives Pharaoh MORE freedom…We see the same kind of thing in the case of Judas…Judas was not a poor innocent victim of divine manipulation. He as not a righteous man whom God forced to betray Christ and then punished for the betrayal. Judas betrayed Christ because Judas wanted thirty pieces of silver…To be sure, God uses the evil inclinations and evil intentions of fallen men to bring about his own redemptive purposes. Without Judas there is no Cross. Without the cross there is no redemption. But this is not a case of God coercing evil” (pp. 146-147; Sproul’s emphasis is italicized in the original).

“In God’s ultimate act of judgment he gives sinners over to their sins. In effect, he abandons them to their own desires. So it was with Pharaoh. By this act of judgment, God did not blemish his own righteousness by creating fresh evil in Pharaoh’s heart. He established his own righteousness by punishing the evil that was already there in Pharaoh.

This is how we must understand double predestination. God gives mercy to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by leaving them in their own sins” (pp. 147-148).

Vessels Prepared for Destruction

PottersfreedomExcerpt from Dr. James White’s book “The Potter’s Freedom” (pages 211-214):

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:17-18)

The example of Pharoah was well known to any person familiar with the Old Testament. God destroyed the Egyptian nation by plagues so as to demonstrate His might and power in the earth, and key to this demonstration was the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. Before Moses had met with Pharoah the first time God told him:

When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)

It was God’s intention to bring His wrath upon the Egyptians. God’s actions were not “forced” by the stubborn will of the Egyptian leader. God said He would harden Pharoah’s heart, and He did. Listen to the impudent response of this pagan idolater to the command of Moses:

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharoah, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'” But Pharoah said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Exodus 5:1-2)

Is this not what God said He would do? Will someone suggest that Pharoah’s heart is “soft” here? No indeed, and Moses well knew that God was behind this for when the Pharoah then increased the work load of the Israelites, Moses complained to God in Exodus 5:22. Why complain to God if, in fact, God had nothing to do with it and it was all just a matter of the Pharoah’s “free will choice”?

This provides the background of Paul’s citation of Exodus 9:16. The portion of truth that here stings the pride of man is this: it is more important that God’s name is magnified and His power made known than it is that any single man get to “do his own thing.” Pharoah was surely never forced to do anything sinful (indeed, God probably kept him from committing many a sinful deed). He acted on the desires of his wicked heart at all times. But he is but a pot, a creature, not the Potter. He was formed and made and brought into existence to serve the Potter’s purposes, not his own. He is but a servant, one chosen, in fact, for destruction. His destruction, and the process that led up to it (including all the plagues upon Egypt), were part of God’s plan. There is simply no other way to understand these words.

Paul then combines the fact that God showed undeserved compassion and mercy to Moses (Exodus 33) with God’s hardening of Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 5) and concludes that whether one is “mercied” or “hardened” is completely, inalterably, and utterly up to God. The verbs here are active: God performs these actions. He “mercies” whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills. The parallel between “mercy” and “hardening” is inarguable. We may like the “mercying” part more than the hardening, but they are both equally a part of the same truth. Reject one and you reject them both. There is no such thing as preaching God’s mercy without preaching God’s judgment, at least according to Scripture.

The passage reaches a crescendo in these final verses:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? (Romans 9:19-20)

Paul knew well the objections man presents to the words he had just penned. If God has mercy solely based on His good pleasure, and if God hardens Pharoah on the same basis, all His own glory and honor, how can God hold men accountable for their actions, for who resists His will? Paul’s response is swift and devastating: Yes, indeed God holds man accountable, and He can do so because He is the potter, the one who molds and creates, while man is but the “thing molded.” For a pot to question the Potter is absurd. These words cannot be understood separately from the fundamental understanding of the freedom of the Sovereign Creator and the ontological creatureliness of man that removes from him any ground of complaint against God. Though already devastatingly clear, Paul makes sure there is no doubt left as to his point:

Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:21-24)

The Potter’s freedom pulses through these words, flowing inexorably into the sea of sovereignty, rushing any would-be proponent of free will out of its path. God has the perfect right to do with His creation (including men) as He wishes, just as the Potter has utter sovereignty over the clay. Just as God had demonstrated His wrath and power by wasting idolatrous Egypt, so too He demonstrates He wrath upon “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” Are these nations? Classes? No, these are sinners upon whom God’s wrath comes. They are said to have been specifically “prepared for destruction.” That is their purpose.

Why are there vessels prepared for destruction? Because God is free. Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all “vessels” are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all “vessels” are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potter who decides which are which. Why is there no fourth option, one in which the pots prepare themselves based on their own choice? Because pots don’t have such a capacity! Pots are pots! Since God wishes to make known the “riches of His grace” to His elect people (the vessels prepared for mercy), there must be vessels prepared for destruction. There is no demonstration of mercy and grace when there is no justice.

The vessels of wrath, remember, like being vessels of wrath, would never choose to be anything else, and they detest the vessels that receive mercy…

The Hardening of Pharoah’s Heart (2)

Justin Taylor has written a short but helpful article, putting together the thoughts of other scholars on this theme:

Does your theology have categories by which to understand both God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and then Pharaoh’s subsequent self-hardening? It’s a good test-case for biblically understanding divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

Here is a quick run-down of the key biblical data:

• Three times Yahweh declares that he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3; 14:4).

• Six times Yahweh actually hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12; 10:1; 10:20; 10:27; 11:10; 14:8).

• Seven times the hardening is expressed as a divine passive with Yahweh as the implied subject, i.e., Pharaoh’s heart “was hardened” by Yahweh (Ex. 7:13; 7:14; 7:22; 8:19; 9:7; 9:35; 14:5).

• And three times we are told that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15; 8:32; 9:34).
Divine-hardening and self-hardening are interwoven, but the God’s action is primary and initiatory: the first five citations (in Exodus 4 and 7) all focus on God’s action; the important point of Pharaoh’s self-hardening only appears in the three verses of Exodus 8 and 9.

The Apostle Paul famously reflected on the theological implications of this in Romans 9, using it to demonstrate the power of God’s mercy over the human will. Note the inclusio (or literary envelope) in Romans 9:16-18, including his quote of Exodus 9:16 on God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart:
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Judicial Hardening

Author: Born in South Wales, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones trained at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and thereafter practiced as a physician and was assistant to the famous Lord Horder. After leaving medicine in 1927, he became the minister of a Welsh Presbyterian Church in Aberavon, South Wales. He was there until 1938 when he moved to London to share the ministry of Westminster Chapel in Buckingham Gate with the late Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, who retired in 1943. This ministry lasted for 30 years until Dr. Lloyd-Jones retired in August 1968. He then engaged in a wider preaching ministry and in writing until shortly before his death in 1981.

This article is taken from “Romans: Exposition of Chapter 11 – To God’s Glory” published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

“What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.” Romans 11:7-10

In these solemn verses the Apostle sums up what he has previously said in this chapter. We certainly are entering into the realm of ultimate mystery. Let us therefore ‘take off our shoes from off our feet, for the place on which we stand is holy ground’. This is a passage that must be approached with reverence, with humility and with care. It does indeed hold us face to face with some of the most mysterious elements of biblical teaching, and of Christian teaching in particular. Let us bear in mind what the Apostle says at the end of the chapter. It is very applicable at this point — ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’

Now that is the spirit and the way in which we must approach this. We are dealing with the mind and the ways of God and we must therefore anticipate that we shall not be able to understand it fully. But a man who rebels because he does not understand the mind of God is one who puts himself immediately into the very category, I say, of these Jews whose tragic case and condition we are considering. Let us be careful. We are all too ready to speak our opinions and when we do not understand the mind of God we say that something seems to us to be wrong. That was the whole trouble with the Jews. God forbid, therefore, that we should be guilty of the terrible thing of which they were.

First of all, let us get clearly in our minds the basic point which the Apostle is making. He starts off by saying, ‘What then?’ — which means, ‘What therefore?’ In other words, ‘What is the position in the light of what I have been saying?’ His answer is that ‘Israel’ — that is to say the nation as a whole, ‘Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for’.

The word ‘seeketh’ is most important because it means ‘earnest seeking’. The Apostle fixed a preposition to the word that he used in order to give it emphasis. It was not a casual ‘looking at’ but ‘an earnest and persistent seeking’. In addition, he uses the present tense to indicate that Israel was still doing so. What was being sought? Well, there is no question but that it must be ‘righteousness’. They wanted to be right with God.

But he says that though they were ‘earnestly and persistently seeking that, they had not got it, whereas, on the other hand ‘the election hath obtained it’. Now here is a most interesting expression. He does not say ‘the elect’ have obtained it but ‘the election’. Why? If he had said ‘the elect hath obtained it’ we would tend to think of the elect as individuals, and we might fall into the error of thinking that it was as the result of what they were in themselves and what they had done. But in order to obviate any such possibility the Apostle refers to them as ‘the election’. This brings out the great point that it was because of what someone else had done that they had obtained it. This term emphasizes the one who ‘elects’ rather than any choice made by the people and so all the glory is to be given to God alone. The term also describes people corporately rather than individually and that is relevant to the whole argument.

The statement goes on to say ‘and the rest’ which means all in the nation apart from those chosen, ‘were blinded’. We must look at this word ‘blinded’ because all the commentators point out that it really should be translated ‘hardened’. While that is so, the Authorized Version translators had a good reason for translating it as ‘blinded’ as they did in 2 Corinthians 3:14, a parallel chapter, where we read, ‘But their minds were blinded’. I think we can justify this rendering in Romans by pointing out that in the quotation which the Apostle immediately adduces there is a reference to blindness: ‘According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see’. It means, you see, that a callous mask has come over the eyes, and prevented their seeing. Why should there not be an opacity in the eye as well as hardening of the heart? There is, and he goes on from his quotations to elaborate that point. But the thing for us to notice is that this verb is in the passive voice, they ‘were blinded’. We will have to come back to this.

In verses 8 to 10 the Apostle substantiates his basic statement and he does a most extraordinary thing. In the eighth verse he takes a number of quotations from the Scripture and out of them he produces one fresh kind of statement. Here again is another instance of the divine inspiration of the Apostle. The same Spirit who had indited the original statements is here governing this great Apostle, and He is bringing the same meaning out of the three in the form of this one composite declaration. The verses quoted are Isaiah 29:10; Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 6:9.

Now what does Paul say? He says that ‘God hath given them the spirit of slumber’. This means that God had produced a kind of torpor or numbness in them. The meaning of the word he uses refers to an inability to use one’s faculties. If you are under the influence of a drug, you will be dimly aware of things happening around you, but you will not be able to understand them. You are not completely unconscious but you are not fully conscious either and it is the highest faculties of seeing, hearing, and understanding that are affected.

What the Apostle is saying is this: Israel has been in this condition before. We have these examples of it even in the time of Moses and the time of Isaiah, and it was still happening in Paul’s day. He says there was nothing new about this; and unfortunately, it is still happening. It is the explanation of the fact that the majority of the nation of Israel, all indeed apart from the remnant according to the election of grace, are refusing the gospel and are outside the Christian church.
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The Hardening of Pharoah’s Heart

The Hardening of Pharaoh and the Hope of the World
(Sermon by John Piper, © Desiring God. Website:

Exodus 9:8-17
And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians.

12 But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses. 13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.

How shall we know God? How shall we know what God is like and how we are to think about him? When I ask myself this question, one response comes crashing into my mind with overwhelming certitude: human opinion counts for nothing. What you feel about the way God should be and what I feel about the way God should be counts for nothing. If someone rises up and makes a pronouncement about what they can believe and can’t believe about God, that is as significant in determining what is true about God as the creaking of a window in the wind. Human opinion counts for nothing in defining God.

How than shall we know him? For it is very crucial that we know him. If he is there, nothing in the universe matters more than he does. If he is there, he is like the thunder clap and we are like the scratch on a faint recording. If he is there, he is like the sun shining in full strength and we are like dust-mote floating in the morning beam of bedroom light. If he is there, he is absolute and we are utterly dependent.

But now I am risking putting my opinions forward, which don’t matter at all. How shall we know him? We will know him by his own initiative to reveal himself. This he did most clearly and powerfully in sending his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Then he said that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide his apostles into all truth so that the truth of Christ and the Father would be preserved and displayed in the inspired Word of Scripture (John 16:13). The effect of this promise was that the apostles could say, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

Drawing Upon the Old Testament
But the apostles and their associates who preserved the truth of Christ for us in their gospels and letters were led by the Spirit in them to immerse themselves in the Old Testament as well as the teachings of Jesus. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). As the Spirit led the apostles into all truth, he did so by leading them to a true and deep understanding of what God had done and said in the Old Testament.

This is what we see all through the book of Romans, especially in chapter 9 where we have been since November 3. In Romans 9:4-5 he deals with “the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, the patriarch” – all of which he sees in the Old Testament. In verses 6-12 he deals with Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau from Genesis. In verse 13 he refers to Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.” In verse 15 he quotes Exodus 33:19 (“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion”), and builds his argument for the justice of God on it. And then in verse 17 he quotes Exodus 9:16 and concludes from it in verse 18, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”

So if we ask, How can we know God? God’s answer is: I reveal myself to you mainly in my Son Jesus Christ, and through his inspired apostles in the New Testament, who take us back to the earlier revelation of God in history and show us that all of divine revelation is of one piece. The God of the Exodus is the God of Romans. The God who dealt with Pharaoh is the God who deals with us.

So Paul roots his teaching about the sovereignty of God and the freedom of God and unconditional election in the Old Testament at every point in Romans 9. He is eager for us to see that New Testament revelation of God is one with Old Testament revelation of God. Continue reading